Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thankgivingukah Latke Recipe

Here is a variation of a friend’s recipe that I hacked.  I start off with peeling the potatoes, then shredding them in the food processor.  Today I peeled 10 pounds of potatoes.  Then I placed a hefty handful on a tea towel, wrapped it up and squeezed out as much moisture as possible.  Then I made a batch using the following amounts. 

3 Cups of dried and shredded potatoes
2 eggs
1/3 cup of diced onion
2 Tbl vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
2 Tbl flour
¼ tsp baking powder 

Blend well and then drop about a small handful into the hot oil.  Don’t put more than four into the frying pan or it brings down the temperature of the oil.  I ever so slightly flatten the latkes with a metal spatula.  Cook until the first side is golden brown.  Flip and cook the other side under golden brown.  Remove, drain on paper towels and serve hot with applesauce or sour cream.  Enjoy.  Note: if you are making a lot of batches, change oil often. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

John Fogerty, Oakdale Theater

The Oakdale Theater is a favorite music venue. The seats are great and the acoustics are superb. Last Saturday, at the Oakdale, oh I mean the Toyota Oakdale Theater, I saw a favorite of mine; John Fogerty.  Let’s back up here for a second. I really don’t understand companies who buy the naming rights to arenas.  I am no more inclined to buy a Toyota simply because it adorns the entrance to the theater.  I will never call Met Life Stadium anything but Giants Stadium. The XL Center in Hartford?  Sorry. I don’t even know what  an XL is? How about the Sports Authority Field at Mile High?  That’s a mouthful.  Or my personal favorite; The KFC Yum! Center in Louisville that houses the University of Louisville’s basketball arena. And yes, the exclamation point is part of the name. Go figure. 

Anyway, we get there early and find our seats.  I thought they were excellent seats.  Middle orchestra, end seats.  I thought that until I had to get up for everyone who got there after me.  Excuse me, excuse me, etc.  The demographics were decidedly not the coveted 18-49 crowd.  It was more of the Lipitor/Nexium crowd with a splash of Plavix thrown in.  Sure, there were some young kids, but they might have gotten confused by the signage and thought they were shopping for a new car. 

Just as I am sitting comfortably, in lumbers a couple that their combined weight probably equaled a Toyota Camry.  And they are sitting next to my wife.  He sits down and it was like he was nearly sitting on my wife.  Sorry dear, no armrest for you! My wife spent half the concert clinging to my shoulders. It made for a more intimate experience. With me, not the big guy.

The lights dim, the spark machines go off and John Fogerty steps onto the stage.  First song “Tonight.”  One of my favorites and he and the band crush it.  One of the facts on the video loop before the show was that he travels with about a dozen guitars.  He hitches up a new one, the fog machines light up and he segues into “Born on the Bayou.”  His guitar work was brilliant.  The videos were set up in varying rectangular screens and on the stage risers.  It really made for a great visual effect. 

It’s about 35 minutes after the concert started and people are still trickling in.  What, you didn’t have all day to figure out you were going to a concert tonight? Not something that usually slips my mind.  But that’s me.   Now they are excusing themselves in a dark theater, stumbling over people, spilling drinks, while you are trying to enjoy yourself.  Thank you for being so self-absorbed. 

Between songs, Fogerty tells us that one of his biggest influences was Little Richard and other early rock and roll and rhythm and blues players.  Then the band breaks into “Good Golly Miss Molly.”  Fantastic.  A few songs later the band breaks into “Keep on Chooglin’.”  Not a favorite of mine but they absolutely slayed that song.  The drummer, Kenny Aronoff, a drum god of mine, does an amazing drum solo that had the entire audience mesmerized.  Fogerty then pulls out his harmonica and starts wailing.  Flames are shooting up; Fogerty is joined in the center of the stage by the rhythm and bass guitarists.  The song is building and building, people are on their feet dancing and singing.  It was an amazing rendition of that song. 

A few songs later, Fogerty is telling the audience about his Woodstock experience of having to follow the Grateful Dead at two in the morning.  As the band breaks into “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” a bunch of beach balls drop from the gantry.  I finally got to hit one; first time in 45 years of concert going, right into the back of someone’s head, but it was dark so we’re all good.  To my left is a cardiologist playing air guitar and I’m jamming with him, drumming on the back of the seat in front of me. 

It’s midway during the concert, and since this crowd is of the older variety, you guessed it; they have to hit the lavatories.  Not en masse which would be the polite thing to do, but one, then another and another and finally a trickle.  So I’m standing up and down for about ten minutes or so.

An interesting fact about John Fogerty is that he was actually sued for sounding like himself!  What happened was Saul Zaentz, who was the owner of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s old label, Fantasy Records owned the rights to “Run Through Jungle.”  When Fogerty released “The Old Man Down The Road,”  Zaentz sued Fogerty saying that the song “The Old Man Down The Road” was simply a repackaged “Run Through The Jungle.”  So Fogerty was sued for essentially plagiarizing his own song.  Fogerty eventually prevailed in court but it cost him a ton of money in legal fees. 

During the song “Long As I Can See The Light,” Fogerty went up on the center stage riser and was bathed in 16 narrow beam spots.  He looked as if he were glowing.  The effect was breathtaking.

I couldn’t wait until “Centerfold,” because Fogerty plays a guitar that is shaped liked a Louisville Slugger. During “Fortunate One,” some of the videos screens were displaying images of the Vietnam era.  Others were showing flames.  It was a very moving interpretation of how the country was being torn apart at that time. 

The band breaks a little over two hours for the encore.  Everyone is one their feet screaming and clapping.  They come back and play “Bad Moon Rising,” and end with “Proud Mary.”  The confetti cannons explode, house lights go up and the band walks off behind a curtain of confetti.  Awesome. 

Walking out of the venue listening to the creaking of knees and flushing of the bathrooms I watch some guy in his fifties wobbling so drunk he could hardly walk.  His two buddies were laughing at him.  When we got to the car, the guys next to me kept on telling how stoned they were.  I was especially interested in the very stoned guy, not the somewhat stoned guy, tell me that he was into Fogerty before Fogerty was.  I’m sure there is logic there, but it was lost on me. 

Anyway, it was a truly great performance.  The band was tight, the songs were spot on and it gave me a little glimpse back when I was young.  A truly sweet evening. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rocky Scott --- Rest In Peace

About seven and a half years ago I casually mentioned to my wife that I thought we needed a new dog.  My reasoning was that our elderly sheepdog Pip (actually me) could use a new friend.  After a pretty hard sell, my wife finally agreed.  I scoured the Internet looking for the perfect dog and soon discovered Rocky.  Rocky, a Shiloh Shepherd, was looking for a forever home.  His picture on the Shiloh rescue site showed a beautiful black and sable dog, head whimsically cocked to one side, one ear up and one ear down with big black freckle on his tongue.  I was sold. Shiloh’s are a rare breed of mostly German Shepherd.  They are much larger and more muscular than regular German Shepherds and have a straight back rather than the angulation found in modern shepherds.  He had a black face with the most beautiful mane on his neck.

 I made a few calls to find out his story and decided that we would adopt him.  We drove from Connecticut to Pittsburg to pick him up.  We were excited about the prospect of getting a new dog. 

It was a cold January afternoon when we met him.  We chatted with his foster parent for a while, and finally she brought him out.  I was amazed at how beautiful he was.   My wife almost passed out when she saw him, never imagining how big he was.  The foster mom gave me a leash and I took him out for a walk.  He handled like a sports car.  He patiently walked beside me and heeded all of my commands.  We signed some papers and took him out to the car.  When I opened the door he gracefully leaped into the car and settled down in the back seat.  For the next ten hours he licked, nuzzled and kissed us as if to thank us for his good fortune. 

Our poor Pip never got the chance to become friends with him as she had a stroke one month later and had to be put to sleep.  Rocky assumed his role as the omega dog in the pack of three other cats.  Smokey, our eldest cat ruled the roost with an iron paw.  He was petrified of Lucky, our reclusive, special education cat.  Only Misty, our youngest cat, was his friend.  They would chase each other and then nap together during the day.   They were always kissing each other as if they were lovers. 

During the years that we had him I was able to teach him agility.  He would jump over fences, leap through tires and go up and down on an A frame.  He would run and fetch his ball for hours.  When he was tired he knew to pick up his ball and head for the house for a welcome drink and snooze.  He would also “make believe” that he couldn’t find the ball.  He knew if he didn’t bring the ball back, he wouldn’t get a treat.  I would race over to the ball and all the while Rocky would ignore it.  As soon as I reached the ball to pick it up, he would pounce on it!  He had a good sense of humor. 

He was the most affectionate dog I have ever known.  He would come over to us and hang his head while silently saying pet me.  The fur on his head was like velvet.  A scratch on his nose or a knuckle in his ear would send him into ecstasy. If I stopped, he would let me know that I wasn’t done petting him by giving me a smart snout of his muzzle or place a paw on my arm.  We discovered he loved Canadian bacon one day when after cooking a batch for breakfast, I placed them on a paper towel to drain.  I let them out of my sight for five seconds to answer the phone.  That was all it took.  All eight pieces gone!   You couldn’t leave a glass of water on the coffee table as he would casually come over and quickly drain it.  You literally had to keep one hand on your napkin because he would snatch it from the table and run away with it.  A used Klennex was the ultimate prize.  He would happily shred them on the just vacuumed carpet.  And if you had a cold, well, the floor would look like Time’s Square at New Years. 

About two years ago he began to have trouble pooping.  We brought him to the vet who gravely told us that he probably had perianal cancer and should have him see a surgeon immediately.  We were in shock.  Our vital, handsome boy had cancer!  That day we drove down to the hospital and booked him for surgery.  He came through fine. A few weeks later brought him back for a follow up visit.  He had another tumor.  Oh no, not again!  He went into surgery that day and we picked him up the following afternoon.  Through all of this he never once complained.  After a few weeks he was running in the back yard fetching his ball as usual. The oncologist started him on a course of chemotherapy.  After six months and many x-rays and ultrasounds later, she announced that the cancer was in remission.  We couldn’t have been happier. 

My wife decided to cook his food rather than buy canned or bagged food.  She experimented around and came up with a combination of chicken, beef, salmon, gizzards, oats, and vegetables.  Rocky, who was always a picky eater, dove into this food like nobody’s business.  His coat, which was always gorgeous, became even more beautiful.  He was much happier. 

About a year ago, I noticed that every now and then, his rear leg would give out.  Our vet referred us to a neurologist who told us Rocky was starting to exhibit symptoms of DM; degenerative myelopathy.  This insidious disease is akin to multiple sclerosis in humans and is incurable.  Just when it seems that things couldn’t get any worse we found out that his cancer had returned.  We started chemo again but the first drug didn’t work so we tried a second one.  The second drug made him so sick.  He wouldn’t eat, he was vomiting and had constant diarrhea. After two doses of this drug he was rechecked by the oncologist.  This drug too was not working.   We decided not to continue with chemo and let nature take it course.  We would keep him happy, well fed, and gave him as many treats as he wanted.

The DM started to accelerate.  He was no longer able to jump on the bed.  He couldn’t climb the stairs without assistance.  Finally, he was unable to even stand up on his own.  This once noble, graceful dog could not even get up to get a drink of water. The cancer began to affect his appetite.  He stopped eating and wouldn’t even take a treat. He was dying. 

We had to make the most difficult decision for a dog owner; when to say goodbye. My heart wanted to wait a little longer, but my head forced me to deal with the reality of life.  A dog who used to fetch, jump through tires and over fences could barely stand for more than a few seconds.  A dog who would steal a whole batch of Canadian bacon refused to eat one tiny morsel of food.  With tears streaming from my eyes I asked my wife to call the vet and arrange for his end of life.  Before we went, I sat next to him, stroking his head and recounted story after story of all his memorable exploits.  We then went to the vet, placed him on his favorite pillow and helped him walk over the rainbow bridge.  We told him to please say hello to Pip and to Smokey who had passed a few months ago.  His eyes told us he would be happy to and thanked us for letting him finally sleep in peace. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

You May Shed A Tear

I took my dog out in the snowstorm  we had today.  Under any other circumstances that would be no big deal.  But, Rocky has cancer, and degenerative neuropathy.  The prognosis is not good.  He probably has six more months to live. I wanted him to enjoy one more run.  One more roll.  One more lick of the crisp white snow.  As we were trudging up the hill we saw a hawk swoop down and pluck a bright red cardinal from the ground and fly off. The ebb and flow of nature?  Or   harbinger of things to come?

Rocky has shown remarkable   courage throughout his ordeal.  Two surgeries, weekly blood tests, chemotherapy, and routine visits. His motto must be, “Never complain,  never explain,” because he has never so much as whimpered during this misery.  When I come home from work he still greets me at the door flashing a grin and wagging his tail.  Even when he is logy from the chemo he still nuzzles me for a pat on the head or a good knuckle in the ear. 

I realize I will still be paying the enormous debt I incurred long after he passes.  In the past eighteen months he has seen a surgeon, an oncologist, a neurologist, two general practitioners as well as assorted vet techs.  I spent the better part of a semester of college on his treatments and medicine.  But I cheerily do it because nothing can come close to the bond I have with this dog.  He is my touchstone  to lower blood pressure; my living, breathing, eating, pooping, teddy bear, as well the consummate nap buddy. 

Animals have the luxury of not dwelling on their mortality.  Unfortunately we as humans do.  I try to be positive and hope for the best.  I call the vet if he so much as doesn’t eat a favorite treat. I realize that sooner or later he is going to give out. I dread the day that it happens, but the greatest gift of love that I can give him is to let him go. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Maroon 5 Concert

Adam Levine has become a very lucrative brand.  He is on the wildly popular show The Voice, is introducing a clothing line and tours extensively with his band Maroon 5.  This past weekend Maroon 5 stopped off at Mohegan Sun along with Owl City and Neon Trees.  Now Adam and I go way back.  I originally saw him eight years ago when Maroon 5 was the warm up act for the Rolling Stones; the best band in the world.  I wasn’t that all impressed with Maroon 5 back then partly because I was way too anxious to see Mick, Keith and the rest of the Stones and I had ACL surgery the week before, and was in a bit of a Vicodin haze because I was in excruciating pain.  Fair enough. 

Fast forward to a few months ago when I saw the tour schedule.  I really wanted to see Neon Trees and Maroon 5 was going to be a bonus.  As for Owl City, their contribution was that sappy song “Fireflies,” which I spent the better part of last year changing the channel whenever it was on the radio.  Their only redeeming quality is “It’s Always a Good Time;” a collaboration with cutie Carly Rae Jepson. 

The whole process of buying tickets is one that I despise.  When the tickets went on sale I hit the buy button at exactly 10 AM, only to be told the tickets were sold out.  Huh?  How is that possible?  Did I hit it at 10:00:02?  How did ten thousand other people beat me to a good seat?  I will never know because I reluctantly went to the dreaded and much cursed secondary market and bought some overly inflated tickets, but in my favorite section. 

The night of the concert my wife and jumped into the Mustang and enjoyed an exhilarating high-speed jaunt to the reservation.  We get there and it is mobbed.  Ten thousand concertgoers plus the gamblers, conventioneers and other assorted people packed into the casino.  We take our seats and wait. 

The guy on the PA system goes through the usual exit door speech and ends with “In the unlikely event of an emergency, please calmly exit the building…”  Calmly exit?  People can’t stand on a bank line without getting a murderous look in their eyes, calmly exit?  I think not.

Owl City takes the stage and jumps into their first song.  I’m not sure what it was because it is so FREAKIN’ LOUD!  Now, I know what you are thinking.  Barry, you are of a slightly advanced age and getting more crotchety all the time.  This has nothing to do with that.  It was, bone shaking, diaphragm punching, lousy sound engineering, I couldn’t hear the lyrics, my ears where bleeding loud.  A few years ago I saw The Format.  The Format was Nate Reuss’ band before he formed the Grammy Award winning band fun. Again, way too loud to the point of being uncomfortable.  Their sound guy went to the Spinal Tap school of one louder audio engineering.  Maybe that’s why Nate Reuss formed fun.  Nobody could figure out what The Format was. 

Mercifully, Owl City ends their set and we wait for Neon Trees.  We somehow ended up in a row of people with the appetite of great white sharks and the bladder capacity of tsetse flies.  I mean up and down, back and forth; I got a complete lower body workout during the show.  Here is my advice.  Sit the F@#$ down and watch the F$%^ing show.   One gal, we’ll call her the carb queen, back and forth with beer and pretzels, Beer and nachos, and beer and a bag of King Arthur flour.  Surprisingly her svelte 275-pound body carried it well.  Perhaps Ticketmaster could sell a new type of ticket.  Food and bathroom only; that would free up more seats for those of us who actually want to go to a concert and see the band. 

Finally Neon Trees take the stage. I first saw them on TV and was very impressed.  Catchy tunes, great lyrics and a girl drummer.  I’m a drummer myself and I always enjoy seeing a woman’s interpretation of rock and roll.  She also sings, which is no easy feat when drumming.  Try walking, chewing gum and juggling.  Got it?  Didn’t think so.  Oh, oh, the tsetse flies are back.  The mom is pushing forty and wearing black leather pants. Really mom?  I think leather pants should be illegal on anyone over eighteen.  Just sayin’.  Neon Trees played a fantastic set.  Tyler Glenn, the lead singer has phenomenal stage presence.  They even threw in a cover of “Don’t You Want Me Baby” by the Human League. 

A bit past ten Maroon 5 takes the stage.  They opened with Payphone.  Adam Levine talks a lot about selling the song on The Voice.  He does put it into practice.  Every song he sung was authentic and honest.  He worked the stage like, well, Mick Jagger.  He sincerely thanked the audience for their support.  The videos, lighting and staging were awesome.  Did I mention the lasers?  Yikes, they were amazing.  He brought out Rozzi Crane, his protégée for a duet on “Wake Up Call.”

  She also returned during the encore for “Moves Like Jagger.”  For the encore a bridge descended from the ceiling and connected it with a smaller stage in the middle of the audience. 

This time around Maroon 5 blew me away.  They are very tight and precise.  Really superior musicians.  I highly recommend seeing them if they come around to the area again. 


Makes Me Wonder 
Lucky Strike 
Sunday Morning 
If I Never See Your Face Again
Wipe Your Eyes 
Won't Go Home Without You
Harder to Breathe 
Wake Up Call 
One More Night
Hands All Over
This Love 


Stereo Hearts 
She Will Be Loved
Moves Like Jagger

Monday, February 18, 2013

Turn Junk Into Treasure; Weekend Project

A while ago, my wife and I were looking for a small blanket chest to put in our living room.  We looked in some moderately priced stores, on-line and even in second hand shops, but nothing struck our fancy.  We ended up buying a small chest from an unfinished furniture place.  The Mill Stores sell a wide variety of pieces ranging from very good to pretty bad quality.  I used to build furniture, so I know a little bit about woodworking.  The piece that we got was in the pretty bad quality category in terms of build, but the dimensions were good, the price was right and we were going to antique it anyway. 

Since it was a pretty plain box to begin with, we thought we would add some decorative trim.  We went to Home Depot and browsed the lumber and millwork section.  We came away with a pretty nice sunburst medallion and some half inch beaded trim.  We then went to JoAnn Fabric to get some decorative rope to replace the twine handles that was currently on the piece.  Now we just needed some time to do it.  Well lo and behold the calendar said we had a free weekend, so we decided to bang this out. 

A few years ago we came across a pretty neat finishing technique using artist gesso and pigment.  Gesso is an acrylic mixture that artists use to prepare their canvases. You apply a thin coat as primer followed by a thick coat to add texture.  The pigment we used to accent the piece was burnt umber.  We previously had finished a few pieces with technique and they look gorgeous.  One was an old Yield House armoire and the other a headboard that I made from scratch. 

Chest, duh that’s what we are working on
Length of chain
Tack cloth
Putty knives of varying widths
¾ inch tacks
Tack hammer
Masking tape
Mitre saw
Nail set
Drill and 3/32 in bit
Wood glue
Accent color
Latex paint

The chains, hammer, nails and chisels were used to distress the piece.  I like to smash it a few times with the chains to add some depth to the piece.  Be careful when swinging the chain.  It may bounce off the piece and smash you!  Just sayin’.  I use the awl to add some “worm holes.”  I use the chisel to shave down the corners and any other places where “wear” would occur.  Use your imagination; there is no right or wrong way to distress a piece.  I also use the sandpaper to relieve the edges of the piece and to smooth the inside.  My wife would have a fit if a blanket caught on a stray piece of wood sticking out!

After distressing and sanding the piece, run some tack cloth on it to clean up any dust or debris.   We removed the hinges and lid bracket.  Carefully place the hardware in a plastic bag and SEAL it.  Nothing ruins a project faster that a lost screw or hinge. 

We measured out where we wanted the trim pieces.  We drew pencil lines to mark the spot.  We then measured the trim and cut the corners with a miter saw.  Trust me when I say this measure three times and cut once.  We applied a thin coat of wood glue to the back of the trim and held them in place with masking tape.   I then drilled some pilot holes in the trim and gently tapped the  finishing nails in place.  I then set them with the nail set.

Now the fun begins.   We painted the interior of the piece with some leftover latex paint from another project. With the interior dry (you did wait right?) pour some gesso into an old margarine container (my wife never throws that stuff out) and lightly brush on a coat, covering the entire piece.  It dries fairly quickly.  

We waited a few hours to go to the next step.  We next applied a thick coat of gesso using putty knives.  We took a hefty dollop of gesso and swirled it on the piece.  We then used different sizes of putty knives to form tiny ridges.  If you make a mistake or don’t like the pattern; no problem.  Smooth it out and try something new.  Again, there is no right or wrong way, only the way that looks best to you. 

We let the second coat dry overnight.  I took the blade of the putty knife and ran it over the bumps and ridges of the gesso.  This knocked down some of the high points to make it look a little more “worn.”  At this point we reassembled the piece. 

Next, take the artist color and dilute it with some water.  We tested in on the back of the piece until we got the color we where looking for.  We took a rag and washed the color on. Waited a minute and wiped it off.  Wax on wax off, or in this case, wipe on, wait, wipe off.  In some of the lower areas like “wormholes” and places I trimmed with the chisel we applied more of the color to give it more of an antique-y feel.  We also worked some of the dark stain into the beadwork of the trim.  This gave us a nice contrast.  We also made sure that the stain was matched so one panel wasn’t darker than the other. 

After waiting another few hours, we applied two coats of satin polyurethane.  For the finishing touch we replaced the original twine handles with some really cool braided rope.  Voila, a beautiful antiqued piece that was fun to do and looks fantastic. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Help! I'm A Prisoner of Nemo/Charlotte! Or Is It Charlotte/Nemo?

One of the perks about being a teacher is when the weather gets iffy, especially when it involves snow; you can always depend on a mini-vacation. Delayed openings are always welcome because it gives me a chance to finish the paper, check out my Facebook feed and have yet another cup of coffee.    The early dismissal, while welcome, usually involves driving home in crappy weather.  Not too terrific, but better than nothing. The favorite of this guy is the cancellation.    Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but I occasionally need a day off.  Ever since I was a kid I would get up at five in the morning and turn on the radio while simultaneously doing my snow dance.  It worked most of the time!  Now that I’m grown up, I don’t do my snow dance, at least not in public and it usually is more of a boogie or a hop. 

Teachers who are experts in math, writing, reading, science and social studies are positively PhD’s when it involves weather.  I mean a butterfly flaps its wings in Bolivia and already we a calculating the odds of having school next Wednesday.   Debating the odds of delayed opening versus a cancelation puts Vegas bookies to shame. 

When the weather people on TV were predicting the snowfall for Storm Nemo/Charlotte or Charlotte/Nemo we were positively ecstatic.   “Just heard 6 to 12 inches!”  “Well I saw 12 to 18!” And so on.  Well, the storm came and dumped record amounts on us.  School was cancelled on Friday and Monday.  So much snow came down that towns couldn’t clear it fast enough and had no place to put it. 

The downside of days off due to weather is the “be careful of what you wish for” syndrome.  Yeah it’s great to have a day off but we have to make it up in the summer.  So now I have two feet of snow on the ground with freezing rain adding to the mix.  The newscaster is talking about another snow event for the weekend and I haven’t left my house in four days.  I think I need a vacation.